Airbus Plans A380 Hydrogen Flights In 2026 After Successful Power On Of ZEROe Engine

Feb 14, 2024

After the recent success in testing the hydrogen fuel cell system, the ‘iron pad,’ Airbus is set to install the fuel cell propulsion system on its ZEROe test bed, an Airbus 380 registered F-WWOW, for in-flight testing from 2026.

In June 2023, the team at Airbus successfully tested the hydrogen fuel cell system, which reached 1.2 megawatts, its full power level. Later that year, the propulsion system prototype, which includes the hydrogen fuel cell system and the electric motors, was powered on at 1.2 megawatts at the E-Aircracft House in Munich.

The 1.2 megawatts that the prototype reached during testing is also the power Airbus aims to test on the A380 in-flight demonstrator, according to Mathias Andriamisaina, Head of Testing and Demonstration on the ZEROe project. This brings the project closer to in-flight testing, with the next step for the ZEROe team to continue testing and to optimize the size, mass and specifications of the propulsion system for flight conditions.

What is the ZEROe project?

ZEROe gets its name from zero-emission and is Airbus’s answer to the growing demand for sustainable aviation technologies. The ultimate aim of ZEROe is to produce a hydrogen-powered commercial plane by 2035 using innovative technologies and concepts.

ZEROe Turboprop Concept (1)

Photo: Airbus

What exactly will the first ZEROe plane look like? There is no definite answer to the question as Airbus is exploring various concepts and technologies for the aircraft. The four concepts that Airbus proposed back in 2020 will pursue either hydrogen combustion or hydrogen fuel cell technology. The latter will be used on a fully electric aircraft type and will be the one tested on the A380 demonstrator.

A new chapter for the first A380

The designated ZEROe demonstrator is also the very first A380 to be produced by Airbus, with production serial number MSN001. The aircraft was the very first ever superjumbo to take to the sky on April 27th, 2005, marking the start of a truly amazing run by the biggest commercial aircraft known to the world.

The first A380 got to share its wisdom with the last A380.

Photo: Lutz Borck | Airbus

The life of MSN001 is just as fascinating as the A380 program itself. MSN001 first took on the role of the prototype, conducting technical testing to achieve the certifications necessary to get the plane ready for commercial operations. This includes tests like water ingestion, extreme hot and cold weather operations, high-speed rejected take-off, and more. The aircraft also went on multiple tours around the world and represented Airbus at various airshows, sometimes wearing special liveries.

After the height of the A380 program, MSN001 was preserved by Airbus while many of the other original prototypes were scrapped. MSN001 became an important instrument for testing the Trent XWB engines for the A350 program, fitting the engine under its wing as the number two engine. It first tested the Trent XWB-84 for the A350-900 variant and was then tasked with testing the Trent XWB-97 for the A350-1000 as well.

More recently, MSN001 was involved in multiple test flights for the use of sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF. The first test flight, partnered with Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney, used 27 tonnes of unblended SAF provided by Total Energies on the three-hour mission and was followed by several other test flights focused on Performance during take-offs and landings.

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